Thumbs Up: the future of mobile fundraising

Jonathan Grapsas, flat earth direct, Australia

It's less than two years since we began using SMS in Australia to recruit regular givers. Not a day has gone by where the learning curve hasn't felt more like a very steep ascension.

We joke every day that we're making it up as we go along. But with very good reason. Mobile is changing the way we fundraise, and more importantly, the way people are giving.

Here are some key insights from the last year, and what I think this means for fundraisers.

We're starting from a low base, but expect massive growth

Mobile recruited regular givers didn't register as a channel just over a year ago. They'd have been lumped into the 'other' category.

In the last year we've seen our clients recruit around 4k new monthly supporters from a couple of trials. I expect this to leap to between 10-15k in 2016-17. Beyond that is anyone's guess but I doubt we will see a regression.

Face-to-face is still the big dog in Australia and New Zealand. Nothing else comes close. In comparison, there's a sprinkling of telephone recruits, two-step recruited online supporters, and some via mail.

If our clients alone are likely to recruit up to 15k new monthly supporters next year then it's easy to see how mobile/SMS recruited supporters, as a source, will be in the silver medal position within the year. If not, then certainly within 24 months.

But as always, it's not about a race to the top. It's about offering another channel to grow your reliance on recurring income, in addition to street, telephone, online, and mail.

Work hard to find something of value to exchange

The catalysts of the aforementioned mobile growth have been the RSPCA with their pet first aid guide campaign. It's now into its second year, and continues to grow. 

This worked because it tapped into pet owners innate fear that something could happen to their furry loved ones that they would be unprepared for. By providing some practical tips on how to handle an emergency situation, we reassured thousands of people they were in a much better place to care for their pooches.

There was a genuine chance of gaining something valuable in this instance; give up your mobile telephone number for a potentially lifesaving first aid guide.

But it isn't just about cute puppies. What's critical is finding an itch that needs scratching. We've managed to replicate this in recent times by developing campaigns like the one for the Cancer Council Queensland that helps identify the signs of breast cancer. 

It's not for everyone, or every organisation, but ask yourself: do you have something, some genuinely useful and practical information or advice that has mass appeal for members of the public? Would people give up their mobile number to get said item in return?

Dwell time is king

Key to capturing people's attention is doing so when they have large periods of dwell: sitting around doing nothing. Probably playing around on Facebook. 

Ads on the back of toilet doors in female washrooms in major shopping centres, on the back of seats on major metro rail networks and even daytime television advertising all rock.

Repeat exposure helps as well, cue the comment above re transit: if you're catching the same train, bur, or tram to and from work everyday, chances are that ad will get you by week's end. Not surprisingly on public transit, the volumes build as the week wears on and drops over the weekend.

Less successful are spots where there are more distractions - whether it be a ferry ad on the harbour or shiny things like digital TV screens in shopping centres and life screens in commercial office buildings.

Premium SMS (pSMS) has arrived, but be patient

Since September last year, a small group of Aussie charities have undertaken a trial to test the efficacy of premium SMS donations. The trial is 12 months long, and the results from asking people to make a $5 gift via their telephone bills to this point appear to have been mixed.

The biggest challenge appears to be generating the volume of responses in the first instance to eb able to call and ask for a regular gift. Our approach has followed in a similar vein to the campaigns mentioned earlier i.e. the initial response is then followed by a phone call, within days, to ask the new supporter to consider becoming a monthly donor. If done well, we've seen regular giving response rates of above 10%.

So what's the itch that you absolutely must scratch?

Remembering there isn't a usable guide that's going to be sent to you, the solution to the problem you've highlighted needs to be eminently clear. My $5 will feed that neglected dog, go toward that piece of equipment or purchase that malaria net.

The other major factor in pSMS campaigns that we'd witnessed around the world before it landed in Australia are big, live audiences. Think UNICEF UK and the Commonwealth Games (over $7m raised from the opening ceremony). Strong creative, a captured audience, speedy regular giving follow up.

Get these right and you're on your way. But don't bank a massive slice of your budget on pSMS just yet. It's in its infancy and the general public is getting used to a new method of giving.

Low value, but they stick around

The appeal of mobile recruited supporters is scale, and linked to that is the relatively low cost (between $250-$300 per regular giver at the right recruitment level/spend). 

The flip side is value. They're on the lower end, $13-$16 per month. With low monthly gifts often comes a greater likelihood to stay on board, and in most instances we've seen excellent retention rates, losing less than 15% of new supporters within 12 months.

Some final thoughts

  1. Mobile recruited supporters will become a significant chunk of the regular giving pie within 12-24 months. Don't ignore it (albeit it isn't for every organisation).
  2. Can you find something really valuable that is part of your charitable purpose that you can give away? It also needs to have mass appeal and can't be something you can pick up off the shelf.
    If marketed correctly it's a win-win. You can help the public, who invariably help you in return with a reliable income stream.
  3. Don't bank on pSMS just yet. It's coming. It will help fuel regular giving, but will take time. For us as a sector to work out how to market it, and for the public to work out where it fits in.
  4. Think about how these recruits came on board (SMS). It's the key to keeping them. Drip feed updates to them in the same way they came on board, by text.
  5. Am I likely to see your ad when I am not distracted and have a large amount of time on my hands? Will I see it multiple times? If the answer is yes both times, you're on your way.
  6. There's a role for large-scale advocacy. We're all dipping the toe in the two-stage online campaigning pool, but can you add to it by offering SMS response using out of home (transit) or TV media placement?

I'm giving mobile the thumbs up and I'm pretty sure the Kiwi public will do the same (we just need to give them something of value first).

Jonathan Grapsas is founder and director of direct response fundraising agency flat earth direct where his clients include the RSPCA, Cerebral Palsy Alliance, Make a Wish, and Cancer Council Queensland. He has 17 years of direct response experience, specialising in digital, DM, and mobile fundraising.


Thumbs Up: the future of mobile fundraising



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